By Terry Dillman
“Any port in a storm."
“Any port in a storm."
Often erroneously used by landlubbers as a metaphor for sailing past any situation, dangerous or not, this time-worn idiom can sometimes mean the difference between life or death for commercial fishermen and other seafarers. Fortunately, Oregon and California each offer a network of coastal ports that provide refuge from rough seas, as well as markets for commercial fishermen's catches and a place to call home. These harbors are alive with varying and eclectic mixes of commercial, industrial and recreational activities and services.
Oregon – Newport and Astoria
Oregon's 363-mile coastline features a network of 15 ports – from large harbors that host international shipping and regional-scale fishing fleets to smaller, shallow-draft sites with limited capabilities – integral to their communities' lifestyles and economies. Collectively, Oregon's ports forge "an important regional network of maritime infrastructure," according to the Oregon Coastal Zone Management Association (OCZMA), which studies the Oregon coast economy and conveys information to an extensive network of government officials and others, aiming to improve the region's standard of living.
Newport and Astoria, two of Oregon's three deep draft ports (along with Coos Bay), are prime examples of what ports can do in socioeconomic terms, not only for their commercial fishing fleets, but coastal communities and the state.
About 250 commercial fishing vessels make Oregon's central coast their home port – most of them in Newport, with a few each in the "world's smallest harbor" at Depoe Bay and inland up the Yaquina River at Toledo, according to information compiled by Fishermen Involved in Natural Energy (FINE), a Newport-based 16-member committee of mostly commercial fishermen.
The Port of Newport features 206 commercial vessel slips, 54 waterway related businesses, and a distant water fleet that annually brings in between $14 million and $32 million to the local economy. To varying degrees, along with the ports of Depoe Bay and Toledo, Newport provides services to commercial vessels of all sizes, ranging in length from 18 feet to 126 feet.
The port is home to US Coast Guard Station Yaquina Bay and National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)'s Marine Operations Center-Pacific, which opened in 2011 under a 20-year lease after the port took on a $38 million project to build the facility. Port officials also point to the completion of another major project – the refurbishing of the port's international terminal, which became fully operational in January. The 17-acre site features 1,000 feet of deep draft waterfront, docks and storage facilities, and several acres of industrial land. Factoring in that project, which port officials say has already drawn intense interest from timber exporting ventures and cruise lines, Newport stands on the cusp of economic prosperity forged from a diverse mix of traditional and emerging industries.
The Port of Astoria is tacking along a similar course.
Located at the northwestern tip of Oregon where the Columbia River feeds into the Pacific Ocean, the port manages a combination of commercial and recreational marine, marina, industrial and aviation facilities, and leases property for industrial and commercial services, including fish processing plants.
Home to 138 commercial fishing vessels, the port provides commercial berthing, seafood processing and fleet support. Pier 1 and Pier 2 are its primary deep water piers, with most commercial fishing services offered at Pier 2, with three fish processors, a 71,800-square-foot multi-tenant warehouse, fish off-loading and net haul-out areas, and a dock that can accommodate vessels as long as 1,100 feet. Maintenance, repair, active and inactive services are available at the Pier 3 haul-out boatyard at Tongue Point, which features an 88-ton travel lift. A strategic business plan developed in 2010 focuses on enhancing the central waterfront and Tongue Point facilities. Planned improvements include multi-tenant industrial buildings, cold storage and cannery facilities, and acquiring a 250- to 300-ton capacity mobile crane and standby tug service.
The business plan noted that Astoria would remain "a focal area" for Oregon's commercial fisheries.
California – Fort Bragg and Half Moon Bay
California's 840-mile coastline features 46 ports of varying sizes and capabilities. Leaders of the California Fisheries Coalition, which represents 27 marine-related organizations, say fish and shellfish brought to those ports and marketed statewide, nationally and overseas by more than 14,000 fishermen and more than 200 seafood companies, contributes more than $5.5 billion annually to California's economy.
Commercial fishing tradition is rich at ports in historic Fort Bragg and Half Moon Bay.
Located 170 miles north of San Francisco, Noyo Harbor and adjacent Fort Bragg are situated near highly productive fishing grounds for salmon, groundfish, urchin, crab, abalone and shrimp. Port officials say most resident fishermen participate in more than one fishery, and fishermen say the 80-vessel fleet includes about 30 to 40 salmon trollers, 15 to 20 multi-fishery vessels, 10 to 15 urchin dive boats and seven groundfish trawlers.
The harbor district, Dolphin Isle Marina and a cluster of about 25 businesses at or near the harbor, along with others in the region, provide considerable infrastructure, goods and services to support fishing activities. Local support businesses offer everything from fuel and ice to refrigeration, vessel repair and maintenance. Fish receiving and processing capacity includes six buyers with receiving stations at the harbor, three on-site processors and a live fish buyer.
While much of the catch is processed locally, buyers say some of it is shipped out of the area for processing and distribution. Several fishermen and local buyers sell salmon, crab, groundfish and albacore tuna either off-the-boat or through other direct sales.
Located 28 miles south of San Francisco, Half Moon Bay's Pillar Point Harbor on California's central coast is home to most of the central coast's commercial fishing fleet. The harbor features 369 berths, pump-out facility, ice-making facility, fuel dock and community fish buying center.
Major investments in outer and inner breakwaters by the San Mateo County Harbor District created what district officials consider "the most protected harbor of refuge" along the coast. The district has also invested in berthing and launching facilities and equipment upgrades. Pillar Point also provides a top-notch search-and-rescue service, which officials say performs 110 rescues each year, has saved more than 100 lives and "millions of dollars in boats and equipment."
Like other commercial fishing ports along both the Oregon and California coasts, Pillar Point is also home to experienced multi-generational fishermen, including Jim Anderson, skipper of the F/V Allaine.
Anderson, who fishes for Dungeness crab and salmon, is – like most of his fellow fishermen – an advocate for the industry, immersing himself at various times in the workings of the California Salmon Council, the state's Dungeness Crab Task Force, and the Half Moon Bay Fishermen's Marketing Association, among other things. He says fishermen have "always understood sustainability" and the need to protect ocean resources, but he wants to help the fleet and "the folks I've grown up with" to plot a course through an ever-changing regulatory and economic climate.
They also want to keep fishing ports like Half Moon Bay, Fort Bragg, Newport and Astoria thriving.
Leaders at the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association (PNWA) say ports are critical to the economic survival of their communities, with international trade, commercial fishing and recreational boating becoming "more important to the economic health of coastal port communities than ever before." Business analysts, port officials and fishermen say the vitality of each port is essential, because the migratory nature of many Pacific fish stocks – most notably, salmon and albacore tuna – or simply the pursuit of a catch in the best locales for certain fisheries, such as Dungeness crab or groundfish, find most commercial fishermen operating out of more harbors than just their home ports as fishing seasons change.
As they say, any port in a storm, whether it's literal or figurative.
Economists say commercial fisheries and working waterfronts remain essential sources of jobs and economic growth along both the Oregon and California coasts.
Fisheries also provide part of the overall ambience folks want to experience when visiting the coast - or opting to live there. They attract artists, writers and others, including retirees, who in turn make their own contributions to an ever-diversifying economy and culture. Visitors spend time watching and photographing the fishing fleets, and travelers often show up at the coast seeking fresh, locally caught seafood.
Port and agency officials in both states say ports continue to play a key role in supporting commercial fisheries.